Can You Outlaw Sustainability?

wind_turbineCan you outlaw “sustainability?” Some Kansas lawmakers think so, authoring a bill that would make it illegal to use “public funds to promote or implement sustainable development.” The full text of the bill can be found here.

There are two things particularly interesting here. First, the bill defines sustainable development as “a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come, but not to include the idea, principle or practice of conservation or conservationism.” In other words, the bill effectively outlaws the use of public funds in projects that aim to protect resources for future generations. Not only would the future not be considered in project funding under this law, consideration of the future would be banned from any projects that sought public funding.

Second, this bill could have a huge impact on the burgeoning wind industry in Kansas. Recent DOE studies have estimated that Kansas has a wind-energy potential of 3,102 terawatt-hours per year, which would cover approximately 80% of the energy demand of the entire US each year. Developing even a small fraction of that could yield nearly $8 billion in economic benefits to the state.

The bill’s proponents have said that the bill would have a minimal impact on the wind industry, as Kansas currently does not support the wind industry with public funds. However, expansion of the still-burgeoning industry, like any large-scale infrastructure project, will likely require at least some public support.. While the price of wind power has been dropping over the last several years, it is likely to remain more expensive than traditional energy for the near future. With this bill in place, wind — which is typically pitched as a zero emission and secure, rather than cheap, source of energy — would remain unfunded.

Luckily, the bill never came to a vote. However, it is likely to reappear in the next legislative sessions. Let’s hope more long-term thinking prevails.